Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Carnival of Homeschooling with Darwin in the Galapagos


I almost forgot.

Alesandra has the Carnival of Homeschooling #65.
It is dedicated to Charles Darwin.

I do not have an article this week--too busy! Look below to see my post.
Then get comfortable and go on over to Alesandra's.
But I plan to settle down to some reading later tonight.

Pondering and the Art of Making Pesach

Yesterday I went into N.'s room because all was quiet. Usually in the morning, N. is singing and playing with his dog. Yesterday he was sitting on his bed, head in hands, staring at the rug.

"What are you doing?" I asked.


I looked at the quiet of his body and the space. I ruffled his hair through my fingers. "Pondering is good," I said. And I left him to his thoughts.

I have been very busy lately. I have been up late each night working on the rough draft of a hypothesis paper about the neurology of visual perceptual differences in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). I have been obsessing--yes--obsessing--about Pesach. (Five days to prepare! Can I get it done?!). We have had some social obligations that couldn't be skipped. I have had a cold.
I have been longing to be free of all other obligations so that I could just finish the cleaning for Pesach.

Yes, you heard right. I have been longing for uninterrupted Pesach cleaning. And I am NOT meshuganeh*! Well, maybe a little.

I worry about all the work that Pesach entails every year starting after Channukah. This year, N.'s Bar Mitzvah made me late in my worrying. I worry until I actually start cleaning. Usually, I get everything cleaned during spring break. This year, I got some done during UNM spring break and some done last week. Last Thursday, the carpet cleaners came, and I got the pantries organized. (You should have seen this one before). But I still have kitchen work to do. So my worrying was compacted early and spread out late.

So, you probably wonder why I long to do the work uninterrupted? It is because I stop worrying about getting it done the more I settle into the work.

I put on Jewish soul music--you don't want to know! Maybe you do? My favorite is a CD by Klingon Klezmer called Honey, would you be meshuga tonite?

Anyway, I put on my Jewish soul music and I begin wherever I planned to begin. I gather my supplies. Everybody leaves me alone! They clear out like magic and I am alone with Klingon Klezmer and my thoughts. It is wonderful! There is something in my balabeyta** soul that is satisfied by bringing order out of chaos. It is my little share of the creative power of the Eternal.

And as I clean, I get to ponder. I ponder little questions: "What was I thinking when I decided to move this from one house to another?" "How did that get in here?"
And I ponder big questions: "Isn't it funny that work so hard to rid ourselves of chametz***, which is ubiquitous as the dust of the earth?" "What am I learning this year as I do the job that can't possibly be finished completely?" And my thoughts flow through my head like a gentle, spring rain.

And the day goes by and I feel very satisfied at the end of it. I can see what I have physically accomplished. But what has happened in my soul, although invisible, is even greater.

By the time I have gotten most of the heavy cleaning done and

I have started to get the Pesadik food on the shelf, I have pondered my way from slavery to a sense of freedom within the everyday routine of my life. I have pondered about what has enslaved me this year and how I will break those chains of petty obsessions and comfortable ruts.

As the moon of Nisan waxes from a sliver to the full moon of z'man cheruteynu, the season of our freedom, I have pondered anew the wonder of the freedom we are given and the joy of serving the Eternal, Source of Life and Freedom, who delights in the joy of our creativity and renewal unto life. The One who wants that we should learn to become ourselves.

There is an art to making Pesach. And I feel a little sorry for my husband because he does not have the physical touchstone of the meditative act of removing the chametz to set him pondering.

Do you ponder?


* Meshuganeh, meshuga (Yiddish) --Crazy, nuts, in the colloquial sense

**Balabeyta (Hebrew and Yiddish)--in charge of the house

***Chametz (Hebrew)--levened goods, levening

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Weird Weather

I know that I write entirely too much about the weather, but.....

Yesterday, we woke up to steady rain. Rain for more than a half-an-hour is pretty unsusual in New Mexico, especially since we are supposed to be having a dry spring. But the rain stopped, the sun came out although it was partly cloudy and windy, so we figured we were done.

But at about 1:30 yesterday a thunderstorm came up from the south and with it a tremendous hail-storm. You can see the pea-sized hail falling on my truck. The white streaks in the picture are the hail stones falling. It was all hail--no rain.

The hail lasted for half-an-hour. Still no rain! Weird.

It covered the ground like snow and was at one time nearly an inch deep.

I took a close-up of it on the dooryard path toward the driveway. Those brave little weeds survived without even getting bent, such hardy creatures are they!

Then, at two o'clock, just when I was despairing of going out in it to go to class, it stopped. The sun came out. The ground was covered with hail-slush.

Bruce very kindly scraped the truck for me. Sometimes husbands are the greatest!

I was only a little late to class.

Last night it was raining a little, but the temperature was above freezing and it stopped in the night.

This morning, we were laying in bed and watching the pink-orange sunrise creep across the sky through the bedroom clerestory.

Then Bruce said: Look out the other window! It's snowing.
It was. Clouds in the west were letting out snow, even as the sun was shining.

Is there such a thing as a snow-bow?

I got the camera, but the clouds had pretty much covered the sky by the time I took my first picture.
Here it is--Spring Snow on Aspen.

Here is the snow falling on the woods to the south, and over our precipitation guage.

I fancy that the light is different even though it is snowing like winter--it looks like spring here.

The snow was soft and wet and melted quickly. By the time we took the dogs out for their morning walk, it had disappeared from the ground, although it was still resting on the trees in the forest on our mountain.

Here are the departing snowclouds covering South Mountain, taken as we walked the dogs up our ridge.

The snow is now completely gone as if it had never been. It is 50 degrees outside and the sun is peaking through the rain-clouds.

Weird Weather! It is supposed to be warmer tomorrow, although the storms asre still coming in bands from California.

Weird! But we'll take any and all precipitation.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Vernal Equinox and "the Month of Spring"

Happy first day of spring according to the new calendar.

To the right is the sunrise this morning. The came up quite a bit to the north of where it came up on the Groundhog's day cross-quarter day. At that time, the sun came up in the notch in the trees above the house across the street.

It is now coming up due east, which is right for the equinox.

Yesterday was Rosh Chodesh Nisan--the new moon of Nisan, which is the first day of the month of Nisan. It is also called Chodesh Aviv--the month of spring. This is a very important month for us because on the night of the full moon of spring we celebrate the Pesach Seder--the feast of Passover--and for the next seven days we celebrate the festival of unlevened bread--Z'man Cheruteynu--the season of our freedom. Yesterday we read:

"Adonai said to Moshe and Aharon in the land of Mitzrayim (Egypt, literally, "the narrow places"): This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you..."

Yesterday then, was also Rosh Hashanah Chodeshim--the New Year for Months. which is one of the four new years celebrated in the Jewish calendar. We will not taste Matzah for any snacks until the evening of the 14th--the full moon--when we celebrate Pesach.

I am still busy with the preparations for Pesach. I need to finish shopping for Passover food and kasher (make fit) the kitchen for Passover. This involves all sorts of unusual cleaning practices, including changing the dishes, immersing every day implements in boiling water, and using a blow-torch to clean the stove burners! I am grateful that I now also have a self-cleaning oven, which makes kashering the oven more practical. (Now is payback time for our Christian friends, who will smile at this piece of insanity just as we smiled at the practice of bringing a large, dying tree into the house and the vacuuming of pine needles in December).

The weather is absolutely beautiful. They keep threatening clouds and possible rain--which would be alright--but so the far the barometer has stayed stubbornly high. If it does rain, then according to old weather lore, we are in luck because on the quarter days the weather of the day predicts the weather for the season. We have been told to expect a dry spring because El Nino shut down rather suddenly a few weeks ago.

N. says: "Whatever! I just hope that La Nina stays far away from the Pacific. We need a good monsoon this summer."

Happy Spring!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Carnival of Homeschooling Is Migrating Your Way

Tuesday is always a busy day, especially now that Spring Break is over and I am up to my ears in papers and projects for the last 8 weeks of the Spring Term at the University.

But the Carnival of Homeschooling is winging your way over at Principled Discovery. There are many excellent entries this week and the lovely theme of birds migrating at the change of season.

I am pouring myself some nice herbal tea with honey (not too sweet) and I am going to curl up with my laptop and read away!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Too Sweet?

N. came home yesterday from an overnight camping trip with the Boy Scouts at Rio Grande Gorge State Park.

He had left with mild allergies but returned with full fledged sinus congestion and a cough.

This morning, instead of his usual hot chocolate, he requested "Tea. Licorice Spice. Hot. With lots of honey."

So I duly made him a 12 oz. cup of tea with his usual two tablespoons of honey. I noticed after a little while that he had not drunk it all up. When I asked him about it, he said: "It was too sweet, Mom."

Too sweet? This was the sweet-tooth of Bernalillo County talking. What gives?

I guess my little boy is becoming a young man.
He said that despite waking up yesterday with the cough, he had a good camping trip. They toured the bridge (top picture-highest bridge on the US Highway system--courtesy of NM Tourism Department) and they took a hike along the Rio Grande in the Gorge.
I haven't been up there in a long, long time. Maybe it's time for a day trip to Taos.
Maybe for Mother's Day.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

What Did You Do Over Spring Break, Mommy?

Lots! N. really began taking charge of his wilderness studies with Kamana. Here he is, walking off into the sunset at White Sands National Monument.

I started cleaning for Pesach. When I got to my office on Thursday, I hung some antique rose lace curtains on the clerestory. It softens the light on my computer screen just a bit in the afternoons!

The weather was beautiful most of the week. We did some reading and studying outside!

I enjoyed my morning walks with the dogs. On Tuesday morning we had a bit of a fog over the mountains.

The good weather has brought out the wildlife!
Here is a black squirrel clinging to the side of our house.
This morning, as Bruce and I were reading in our newly cleaned sitting room, the dogs went crazy. They barked and ran importantly from window to window, letting us know that there was a squirrel on our house.
I took the picture and we thanked the dogs for alerting us to that great sight!
N. discovered the Vencinos Skate Board Park. Yesterday, when we bought our Shabbat Challah at Wild Oats, we also got some picnic munchies and sodas. We went to the skateboard park, where we--well, I--ate and read a book. N. enjoyed trying his skills on the various ramps and--I have NO idea what you call the other stuff). I will be posting a whole blog article on skateboarding soon--I promise! Once N. teaches me the correct terminology.
Isn't this a maneuver to stop a mother's heart?! I took some pictures and then retired to the picnic table (facing the other way) with my Hansen's Vanilla Cream Soda to read Tom Brown Jr.'s Case Files of the Tracker. I had no need to WATCH this crazy stuff. I did listen for cries and screams of pain. Alas, I brought the first aid kit in vain! My boy has superb reflexes and balance--unlike his aging mother.
One thing I did not do so far is study. A woman's plans should exceed her time or what's a Spring Break for?
I'll probably be sorry later. A paper in neuroscience awaits!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Kamana and My Evolution from "Sage on a Stage" to "Guide on the Side"

Although it is Spring Break--at least for me due to UNM schedule--N. has been working on his Kamana. The weather has been so wonderful that he does the reading outside. He does a reading in the morning and practices an awareness exercise all day and then he journals about it in the evening. That's the Wilderness Awareness Trail. Then, every other day, he also does the Resources Trail--which involves researching in his North American Wildlife book, map study, listening to the Native Voices cd's, and more journaling. Both sets of journaling also involve detailed sketching of various organisms and field observation.

It is so wonderful to see N.'s absorption in his Kamana studies. He is no longer paying attention to whether he is "on break" or not. He has started managing his learning for himself, so that it is just another part of daily life. It is my challenge to let him alone and not intervene unless he requests help. That help usually involves me driving him to library or helping him find resources on the internet. It may involve solving technical issues with the computer. It is very rare that I am actually "teaching" him or even arranging his studies.

One of my professors in gifted education said that was important to use the Autonomous Learner Model so that students would become learners--guiding their own studies. And teachers would evolve, becoming "a guide on the side rather than a sage on the stage."

This was very difficult to do in today's classroom. Even though I taught a gifted resource the last two years, the general educators who were in charge of my students' time were very jittery about the NCLB testing and wanted to know exactly how what I was doing was meeting grade level standards--even though my students were working above grade level by at least two years. If one of my kids goofed off during computerized testing and got a poor score on even one question they were put on a "watch list" for an Academic Improvement Plan (AIP). This led to a lot of micromanaging of classroom performance and activities. The one thing missing was the sense of patience that is required of a good teacher. "Outcomes based learning" is not based on a year's work. It is about making each child produce every single day. And every single day there must be improvement. No one is to have a bad day, a lazy day, a sick day.

Good teachers know that this is not the natural rhythm of learning. People seem to need periods of intense activity followed by periods of rest and consolidation. People seem to need to explore sometimes and to focus sometimes and to just lie and look at the stars sometimes.

The type of education that is being promoted today is a system that does not take into account the organic nature of learning nor is it based on human reality. It is the factory model sine quon non!

And what I am realizing is how much my work in that system has turned me into someone who needs to see unrelenting progress every single day in order to feel that I am being accountable for N.'s home education.

And yet I know--somewhere deep down--that this is not the reality of deep learning.

So, I am biting my tongue and sitting on my hands a lot--just like a good midwife. I tell myself not to interfere in a natural process. That just as there is no textbook labor, so there is no "textbook" autonomous learner.

Sometimes I fail and then I see the consequences of my impatience. It usually sets us back for some time and I have to reconnect with N. and we both have to come back round to a place of trust in the process.

This appears to be more of a struggle for me than for N. He has been de-schooling himself unconsciously for some time now. I am somewhat behind in the process--having many more years of schooling to resolve. There is a lot of grief in the process. I find myself remembering all the myriad ways in which school deformed my learning and all that I lost in the process. And yet, I am also remembering all the wonderful ways my parents did guerilla learning with us--totally without plan. So it is a matter of getting back to that child that is buried deep within my adult self.

It is also a matter of observing N.'s instinctive knowledge of what he needs to learn and allowing that to be my guide.

This is hard when I let myself get in the way. And at the same time, it is easy and joyous and I watch it evolve.

This is the most fun I have had "teaching." Except that "teaching" is the wrong word. Now I am doing what I truly wanted to do in the first place when I decided to become a conventional "teacher." I am learning with a child. My child. And learning to know him--his heart, soul, and mind--is truly the most fulfilling experience I have had as his mother.

I am so full of joy that we started on this journey. It has certainly taken us somewhere other than I had planned. And that joy is constantly with me, running deep beneath the monkey-mind chatter that keeps me sitting on my hands and biting my tongue.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Turning the House Over

Spring Break for mom means one thing!

It is time to turn the house over for Pesach (Passover).

During Pesach, Jews cannot own leven (Chametz). So we "turn the house over" in order to remove chametz from the house. Of course, it would be impossible to get rid of it all so there is an escape clause in which after honest effort, one can declare any missed chametz to be ownerless as the dust of the wind.

I started my honest effort yesterday. I always start in the bedrooms and move toward the kitchen. This makes sense because the kitchen must be made kosher for Pesach last, since we have to eat while the house is being cleaned.
Above, you can see that I have stripped the bed and am ready to go at it! I got the master bedroom and the masterbath done before I took N. to Boy Scouts last night.

One cool thing is the bathtub is finally in!

Bruce and a neighbor completed the work recently.

I got a shot of Bruce putting in the faucet and the spray attachment. The guys had gotten the tub in before I got home that evening.

You can see that the tub is now in the hole in the tile where it was supposed to have resided before the Bar Mitzvah. You know what they say about "best-laid plans of mice and men..."

By the way, that little white triangular shape to Bruce's lower left is Zoey's tail. Nothing happens in our house without her presence--except vacuuming!

Yesterday when I finished cleaning and getting everything ship-shape, I took some pictures of the bathtub in place.

It will probably never look so good as it did after I finished the cleaning job. I really wanted to turn on that hot water, start the jets and add some muscle ache bath salts--and that was after the first day of cleaning. It was relatively easy work.

Today, I was planning to do my office and the hall and possibly start on the living room, but...

I walked into the laundry room, and the cat sand was filthy, and the laundry room was is general disarray. When I opened the cabinet to get out the soap, I realized that there were drips and drops of soap with borax powder and baking soda all stuck to the floor. And cat hair on the curtains, and...well you get the picture!

I couldn't let that go a day longer without going completely nuts. So I ended up doing the laundry room.

That little room took 4 hours. That includes, cleaning the table where the cat food is put, cleaning the cat-tree (If I knew how to card and spin, I could knit with that hair), cleaning the washer and dryer, vacuuming the lint traps, washing the curtains, vacuuming the ceiling corners, walls, and floor, cleaning the baseboards (I love Murphy's Oil Soap in the spray bottle--gotta get some more of that stuff), and washing the floors. Oh, and I washed the window and the screen. It looks great!

But I did a lot of bending, stretching, climbing, and sneezing. It was very dusty. So this afternoon, my bathtub looked even better!

Since N. is mostly working on Kemana, he did that but helped with the cleaning, too!

Yesterday, he cleaned the front porch and picked up litter from the yard. It is amazing what gets under the snow!

Today, N. groomed the dogs and kept them occupied outside. (The cats live in the laundry room in the daytime because Lily and the cats don't get along well without supervision). He also took out the garbage and learned about "elbow grease" since I don't use a lot of commercial cleaners.

He also decided today was a good day to cut back the purple sage and the desert lilac in the front dooryard. I think he might have done it with a samarai sword (wince) instead of the clippers...

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Residual Anger

A rant!

I have been meaning to write on this topic for some time, but life has gotten in the way.

A few weeks ago, the lawyer for special education at our local school district gave a presentation in my Special Education law class. He talked about how to have your ducks in a row as a teacher so that parent due process hearings are decided in the district's favor. What he did not talk about was what happens to the child when parents lose the due process hearing, or the extremity of the difficulties that would lead a parent to actually go to court with the school district in the first place.


Our local school district is not particularly respected in our area. It is too big and does not handle money well. The latest issue is that money that was supposed to go to teachers and classrooms went to remodel a fairly new building the district bought--in order to provide posh executive bathrooms. (In the school I taught at, the teachers sometimes had to provide toilet paper for the staff and kids). Somehow, they could never get one of the john's working, so that many teachers had to go well past 4 hours without a chance to use the bathroom.

Another problem with the size is that the middle management does not listen to parents and the tax-paying public very well. One community activist in an area where the children were not learning to read finally told me that she was giving up. She said the middle-management would have to die off before effective change could be made. She ended up starting a charter school when the charter school bill was passed.

This is not to say that there are not good and caring teachers and principals--and even staff at the district office. But the problem with a system like this, is that the needs of the system become paramount over the original purpose for it, so that the good done by well-intentioned people is overshadowed.

End of Background

Anyway, back to the lawyer guy.

I asked a simple question. I asked if the district actually has a policy that says that a child may not be moved from one classroom to another for any reason. This is what I had been told when my son was in third grade. We had just moved into this school district from another, smaller and more responsive district. My son was an identified child with a disability, qualifying under IDEA for Speech Language Impairment. (we had recently learned that my son has AS, but in discussing eligibility with his neurologist, we all determined that SLI was a good eligibility for him until he was up for review in another year). I hand carried a copy of the IEP since I didn't want to risk waiting for the slow-turning of the beauracratic wheels. The head teacher duly called an IEP meeting. I went rather casually, because in the former district the goal was to work together to meet the needs of the child and I was regarded as another professional. At this first meeting, I was told by his teacher ( called Miss Snip to protect the guilty) that I really did not know my child, that she could do everything he needed and that the goal was to exit him from special education as soon as possible. (Miss Snip had known my son all of three weeks). I was not impressed. I provided the diagnostic information from N.'s neurologist, as well as the recommendations for his education. At the other school district he had been provided with Speech and Language services to deal with language pragmatics as well as with Occupational Therapy to deal with the physical difficulties he had with writing and with his extreme sensory integration dysfunction.

This teacher claimed he could write (true--but he was very slow and his hand tired easily) and that his sensitivities were due to poor parenting. The meeting became very adversarial--after all who was this little snippy girl who had known my son for three weeks to make these outrageous claims? Naturally, I was more diplomatic in my vocal response, but that's what I was thinking. We hammered out an IEP, finally, that included the clause that N. was not to be deprived of recess if he did not complete written work or for disciplinary reasons. Miss Snip did not like that at all! But she got her way on the matter of testing--he was to be tested in a large group instead of the small group that his previous teachers and therapists recommended. (Later, when he doodled a pattern into the bubbles of his answer sheet in the NCLB mandated testing she had reason to be sorry. After all, those tests were not about N,--they were about her (in)competence).

When I got home, I shared with N. what the accomodations on his IEP were so that he could advocate for himself. (I have always had an honesty policy with my kids about anything related to health or school). About two weeks later, I got a call from N.'s teacher. (I was teaching at a private school at the time, and my principal courteously took my class so I could respond. She thought the person on the other end sounded a wee bit upset). I picked up the phone to hear Miss Snip yell: HOW DARE YOU TELL N. WHAT IS ON HIS IEP! (Note: Actually, according to the federal IDEA legislation, the child is supposed to be a member of the IEP team unless there is an educational reason why that should not be so). She went on to say that she kept him in for recess because he had not finished a worksheet and a writing assignment and that he told her she couldn't do that because it was on his IEP. She accused me of damaging my child by even telling him that he had an IEP and that it embarrassed him in front of the other kids. (I guess she didn't read the material I gave her about AS). I mentioned that the IEP is a legal document that must be followed according to federal law and state regulations and that an excuse such as "I just can't do this" is highly unlikely to hold up in court.

After this encounter, I spoke with the Sp. Ed. teacher about moving him from her class. I was told that it was not their policy to do so because "then all the parents would want to move their kids." (I was thinking wow, this teacher must be really incompetent if all the parents want to move their kids). This started a year long struggle, during which my child was punished daily for his disability--a violation of federal law--while we had several IEP meetings and had to get advocates and finally had to threaten a lawsuit in order to get N. moved out of the Ditto Queen's room. (At one point, when N. did not finish a written assignment, she actually had him take it out to do at recess and put him on a bench to do it. It was a windy day and when N. dropped his pencil, he set the paper down to retrieve it, and the wind blew the paper away. My adult daughter went to pick him up and found him in the isolation corner. I really don't know how she thought that sending N. out into the wind to write when writing is difficult for him at a desk in a quiet classroom would improve his skills).

I was accused several times of being a bad parent, of not knowing my child, of using poor discipline (after all, I was actually on his side), of allowing N. to "use" his disability to get out of work, etc. etc. All of this from someone who was far less educated in any formal sense than I, clearly knew far less about efficacious interventions, and who had no idea of our home life or anything else about us. The parent advocate said it was one of the more difficult negotiations she had ever seen. I finally asked the principal, in the presence of the parent advocate, if I could see a written copy of the policy they kept refering to. Of course there was no such policy, as it would violate federal law to have such a policy. If a child with a disability is not meeting IEP goals, the school must find a way for them to be met. My son not only lost a year of education, he also became terrified of tests and began a several-year long writing strike. He is only now becoming confident of his abilities--this in a child who has tested in the extreme high range for cognitive ability.

Only now, after several years on damage control at school and the choice to remove him from school completely, am I really seeing the wonderful, smart, curious, goofy kid who is my son.

I explained (more briefly than here) to the lawyer at our class, that with all due respect--(which is not much)-- that a parent's concern is not with "winning" but rather with the soul and spirit of a child. I explained that parents do not want to sue--they only go to due process when no other solution can be worked out. After all, a suit can last for years, and the parents concern is that their child get an education. The district may have chance after chance to obstruct parents, but parents only have one chance with their child. I explained to this guy that I put up with accusations and name calling that could only be considered slander in order to try to advocate for my child. I ended by saying that I finally took him out of school in order to ensure that he reached his potential.

By the way, school does not exist to aid a child to reach his or her potential--you can read this for yourself in the Supreme Court Decision Board of Education v. Rowley. "Free Appropriate Public Education" does not mean what most of the tax-paying public thinks it means.

What is interesting in all of this is two-fold. One, I was amazed at the residual anger I felt about what had happened to us. It is really quite amazing that competent adults can be reduced to tears and anger by a school teacher with far less skill and education. I have still not recovered, despite the fact that I am a licensed teacher, and further I have graduate degrees in biology and in special education. (I have a small inkling from this of what it must be like to be poor, to not speak English well, to be a single parent, etc). And I am still very angry! (I know, it's not good for my blood pressure! Om! Om!).

Secondly, I learned something else when I said all of this to the lawyer guy. I got a round of applause from my classmates, most of whom teach special education in this district. Since I taught special education in that district for two years, I know what it was about. It was about all of the IEP meetings, teacher's lounge encounters and other unpleasant experiences that Special Ed teachers tend to deal with when they try to get the needs of their students met and meet contempt and resistance from general education teachers. It was about all of the times that Special Ed teachers are told by the general education staff that "you aren't a real teacher," "you have it easy" and "please get this child out of my classroom and out of my hair." It was about being part time at three different schools and being upbraided by a general education teacher because you "left early." I understood that round of applause when I heard it, but I was still surprised.

And I thought: We need to have a revolution in the schools--it is clear that these teachers know what is happening to kids and parents.

Unfortunately, the revolution will never come from classroom teachers. After all, how can a person who is not even allowed to go to the bathroom when s/he needs it going to make a break for freedom?

I think one reason so many good teachers leave the field after only a few years is that they come to realize that school systems are the bastions of petty empires and little power plays by people who have no power and get damn little respect. And they find themselves losing empathy for their students and they feel unable to do what they passionately wanted to do--spend time learning with kids. But some stay because they feel stuck, or they are close to retirement and have few options, or they don't know anything better--and some of these take it out on the kids.

There--got that off my chest.

Tomorrow I will get back to the wonderful life we have now--as N. takes more and more charge of his learning, and I have the distinct honor and great joy of really taking the time to know him for the wonderful, unique, smart, and spirited child he has become since being freed from the tutelage of the Miss Snips of the world.

Pictures tomorrow--I promise!

Oh, well--here's one for the road.

With a view like that up the road to feed the soul, why would you want to go back to school?

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Sweet Shabbat

What a beautiful sunset! There is nothing like a beautiful sunset on a Friday night at the beginning of spring break! This was a beautiful beginning to a very sweet Shabbat.
Mid-terms are over, and I think I did well on both of them.

Last night, after watching the sunset, we got ready for Shabbat. The chicken had been roasting in the oven, the food was prepared. The table set, the wine poured. The challah warmed.

Shabbat evening is always a sweet, peaceful time. Everybody bathed, everybody dressed in clean clothes.

When the candles are finally lit, the peace of entering holy time settles upon us. We make the blessing over the candles, over the children, over the wine and bread. We talk, we laugh, we eat.

This week was especially relaxing for me, as it came at the end of a busy week of studying and writing exams. When Shabbat comes at the end of a particularly long and intense week, it feels really wonderful to let go of cares and concerns and step into the freedom of Shabbat. No work or worry for twenty-four hours. Rest.

I used to think it was redundant to be commanded to rest. I thought it was like being commanded to eat. Who needs to be commanded to do such a basic thing?

In these days of 24/7 everything, I see the wisdom of the commandment. Free people can stop one day in seven and spend some time human being instead of human doing.

Today, we took a nice walk with the dogs.
We went to the very special Bar Mitzvah of a friend and the son of friends.

There was time to spend outside in the afternoon.

Notice something funny about the picture? Yes--he's barefoot. Yes that's snow! It was 65 degrees when the picture was taken, but we still have a good deal of snow leftover from the many snowstorms. Our hill is a north-facing hill. So N. spent some time barefoot because of the warm weather.

He thinks he's a hobbit!

This evening, we ended Shabbat with the simple but beautiful ceremony Havdalah--which means separation.

In havdalah we say good-by to Shabbat with wine, sweet smelling spices and fire.

Here are some of our hands, as we look at the reflection of our nails in the flame.

The spices are in the little pomegranate that hangs on the candlabra.

Here is N., surprised by the camera, as he got ready to extinguish the flame in the sweet wine.

I don't know why he was startled, exactly, because these pictures were taken after we had actually concluded havdalah. We just lit the candle again for pictures when Shabbat was actually over.

Good-by sweet Shabbat!
"May the One that separates the holy from the ordinary make our children, our wealth, as plentiful as the sands on the seashore, as the stars in the heavens."
Tomorrow, I will start my normal spring break ritual.
It is time to start cleaning the house for Passover!
Next week, Shabbat will be a welcome rest from real physical labor.
Each Shabbat is different!

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Midterms & Carnival of Homeschooling 63

The Carnival of Homeschooling is up over at Tami's Blog!

It looks to be very good, with articles about homeschooling in general, math, science, social studies, and more!

Check it out!

Unfortunately, I will be checking out the Carnival a few articles at a time during breaks in studying. See the molecule to the right? That's Serotonin. It is a neurotransmitter important to learning and memory--among other things.

I will rely much on serotonin for the rest of this week.

I just finished writing for two hours straight for my Special Education Law class. There was some information to remember about the purpose of law and human rights, but most of the test covered IDEA 2004 and two SCOTUS cases, which we had in front of us. I tabbed my statute in order to find information more quickly.
Now my hand hurts!

Unfortunately, I am not done yet!
I still have Neurobiology to go. That test is on Friday and there will be no notes or diagrams allowed.

And for this kind of class, you must know everything covered in the last 4 weeks of lecture.

Today, I spent some time reviewing G-Protein receptors (pictured to the left) and how they work.

Colorful, aren't they?

They are important in second-messenger signaling in the cell. A neurotransmitter attaches to the receptor outside the cell and this causes the receptor protein to change shape and release the alpha subunit of the G-protein, which in turn causes the phosphorilization of a protein kinase, and activates a cascade of messengers in the cell that can in turn activate a gated channel in the membrane, or activate or inhibit neurotransmitter vesicle movement, or even enter the nucleus and change gene expression.

So I remember something, but I've got to go back and memorize specific pathways and the conformation of specific protein kinases and so forth!

Somebody remind me of exactly why I am doing this to myself!

I have three full days of studying ahead of me before my Spring Break begins at 5 PM MST on Friday.

Monday, March 5, 2007

The Good Life

Don't you just want to lay down there with them?

Sometimes, I say to myself, wow, I'd love to just lay down there with them!

The daybed in my office has become Nap Central.

And look at these feline nappers!

They have a two story Napping Heaven!

We should only be so lucky.

In Israel, they have menuchat --a few hours in the afternoon when the shops close and people gather to eat lunch--the main meal of the day--with friends and family. Even school ends before lunch, with sports and music lessons and scouts after menuchat.

They say that "only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noon-day sun."

Sigh! In America, only dogs, cats and babies take a daily nap.
Somehow, in our Puritan work ethic, we are missing out on the Good Life. (Capitalization on Purpose).

We will be taking a break from formal lessons this week. At least, I will. I have midterms tomorrow and Friday. No menuchat for the weary! N. is working on his Kamana. I will be a week behind him.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Chag Purim! Happy, Hilarious Holiday

Isn't this fun! Last night, after Shabbat, my daughter, MLC, and I got a pedicure and had fun flowers painted on our toes. It was the beginning of our celebration of Purim--the Feast of Esther. We decided to pamper ourselves a little just as Esther was pampered before she was made Queen of Shushan.


by N.

Purim is the Feast of Lots. The word pur means "lots" in Hebrew. The holiday is called Purim because the evil Haman (Booo! Hiss!) cast lots to determine the day he would kill Mordechai, and all the Jews of Shushan. That day was the 14th of Adar. But Haman (Boooo! Hisss!) did not know that Queen Esther, the wife of King Ahashverus, was the neice of Mordechai and that she was a Jew. (Her name, Esther, comes from the Hebrew root for "hidden" and Esther was a hidden Jew in the court of Shushan). When Esther found out that Haman (BOOOOO! Hissssss!) had plotted to kill the Jews, she risked her life by coming to the king unsumoned, and she saved our people. The king then declared that on 14 Adar, Haman (BOOOOOO! HISSSSSSS!) would be hung from the gallows that he made to hang Mordechai on. And the Jews were allowed to fight back against those who had come to kill them.

This was all written in the Megillat Esther, the book of Esther, that we read on Purim. The Megillah ends with: "LaYehudim hayesa orah, v'simcha, v'sasson vi'ykar. And for the Jews there was light and joy, gladness and honor."

So on Purim, we celebrate that we won--for once! And we read the Megillah and drown out Haman's name. We sing and we eat Hammentashen--cookies shaped like Haman's hat!


(Back to you, Mom).

MOM's Part

Chag Purim is indeed a happy holiday! Tonight we will be going to hear the Megillah, the scroll of Esther. Purim is a hilarious holiday that comes at the tag-end of winter. It comes one lunar month before Pesach, Passover, and the preparation for Passover begins in earnest just after Purim.

Yesterday was Shabbat Zachor--the Sabbath just before Purim, which is called the Sabbath Remember! Yesterday the Torah portion that describes how Amalek attacked Israel from the rear as they were crossing desert lands in a mixed multitude. It is an act of great cowardice to attack the rear, where the women and children and stragglers are, rather than the fighting men at the front. We are told:

Remember what Amalek did to you on the road as you came out of Egypt- how he met you on the road and with no reverence for G-d, attacked all your stragglers in the rear, those who were famished and weary. Therefore, when the Lord our G-d grants you safety from your enemies, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. Do Not Forget! (Deuteronomy 25:17-19; Exodus 17:8-16)

It is said that Haman (may his name be blotted out!) is a descendant of Amalek and so when we hear the Megillah on Purim, we blot out his name. And we celebrate with hilarity because Purim commemorates and unexpected deliverance, for in the book of Esther, G-d is not mentioned. Esther is the hidden Jew and G-d is the hidden power for redemption.

The Megillah is read with it's own tune (trop) but it does not sound as joyous or hilarious as might be expected. Rather, there are echoes of the trop for Eicha, the scroll of Lammentations. This is because the Megillah is a story of galut, exile, in which G-d is hidden and Jews are vulnerable. That is why the deliverance is unexpected. We are reminded by the trop that although we were delivered that day, it was accomplished through desperate and courageous acts by Jews, without the presence of G-d made manifest. And we are reminded of the great cost of deliverance effected this way, and of the times when there was no deliverance because G-d is hidden.

So many Hamans, only one Purim.

But still we rejoice in our deliverance. But that rejoicing has a hard edge because since those days we have had to fight and struggle for our existance. That is why the holiday is hilarious rather than joyous.

Tonight, we will eat and drink and send out misloach manot, gift baskets to friends and to the poor among us.

Those of us not driving will drink enough wine or schnapps so that we cannot tell the difference between "Curse Haman" and "Bless Mordechai!"

We will defiantly sing: "Utsu-aytsah v'tufar! Dabru Davar v'lo yakum! Ki emanu-El!

"They have devised schemes but they have been foiled, they have made declarations [against us], but they will not be fulfilled, because God is with us! (Isaiah 8:10). "

But we will also sing the "Al-Hanissim" (For the Miracles) which is sung at Purim and Channukah:

Al hanisim, ve'al hapurkan, ve'al hagevurot, ve'al hateshuot, ve'al hamilchamot she'asisa la'avoteinu, ba'yamim hahem, ba'zeman hazeh.

"(And) for the miracles, and for the redemption, and for the mighty acts, and for the consolations, and for the battles that You performed for our ancestors, in those days, at this time."

For in these days at this season the people of Israel lives because of the mighty acts performed for us, by the courage given to many.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That

We have had an interesting end of the week (and month).

We thought we'd escaped the snow that the rest of the country is getting. We just had an interminable low pressure over us--and terrible wind.
But last night we had some clouds and when we took the dogs out for their before bedtime walk, we thought it might snow.

This morning, we woke up to a light dusting of snow--right--sunshine and a rising barometer. It was one of those, blue-and-white sparkly mornings. It was only 17 degrees, but already the morning sun was melting the snow off the bottom of the driveway.

Ah, the power of the sun!

Now there is no snow left on the driveway.

N. has been investigating the possibility of getting an air compressor in order to use a paint-blower to paint his models. We priced the paint-blower sets, but they are very expensive. So on Tuesday, we ended up getting some of our usual: Testors Model paints.

N. did find some spray paint that he had used on his last Pinewood Derby car, though, and he used it spray paint his old shoes--thank goodness, he did it in the garage.

What do you think?

N. thinks they look "sporty" and he has been wearing them everywhere as we go out and about.

N. has been waiting impatiently for his Kamana I set to come from the Wilderness Awareness School.

On Thursday, he took the unprecedented step of getting the mail-key from me and then he rode his bike down to the mailbox to greet our postal worker ("she can't be a mailman, Mom!") and see if his box had come. It did.

Here is N., as he and Lily investigate the box. It is Lily's job to pass olfactory judgement on everything that comes into the house.

The Kamana program will start in earnest on Monday, but N. has been looking up birds he sees in the North American Wildlife book he got.

N. and I read Part I of the Kamana book. I think I will be a lot slower than N. I have mid-terms this week and then during the Spring Break I have to get the house ready for Pesach and write the first draft of a hypothesis and support paper for my neurobiology class.

We did take the Pop Quiz at the beginning of Kamana I.

I know where our water comes from because Bruce is on the water cooperative's engineering committee. I know where it goes because I have a wonderful stand of scrub oak that lies downstream of the septic field. I know where north is from where I sit--after all, I live with an astronomer! I know that the closest plant to my front door is a New Mexico Desert Lilac--being a plant ecologist helped with THAT question. I was able to identify two poisionous spiders in our area--Black Widow and Brown Recluse and name important identifying marks. We don't use pesticides due to our animals, so we had to learn that information in order to use other means--Bruce's trap and release program--to maintain safe and effective insect control. I could not name two North American birds that resemble the robin--nobody in our house is a birder, although we do know the redtail-hawks, goshawks, and golden eagles that fly over our mountains. But I do know two mammals that feed within 30 meters of my house: cottontail rabbit and coyote. The cottontails eat the grasses, and coyote eats the cottontails. Finally, I know exactly what phase the moon is in for two reasons--I am married to an astronomer, so I have a cold bed on new moon nights, and secondly, the Jewish calendar is based on the lunar phases. Months start on the new moon, and most of the major holidays are either new moon (Rosh Hashannah) or full moon (the pilgrimage festivals).

N. did rather well on the quiz, too, although he did not know where our water came from. He could name the two birds, though.

However, we looked over "the alien test" (much longer)--so-called because most of us are "aliens" in our own backyards-- and we both know that we have a lot to learn.

The only question I have is this: What if this becomes more fun than graduate school?

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Drawing: Another Result of the Titanic Perseveration

N. asked me to get him some drawing pencils the other day.

He had gone through a phase of drawing last year, but lately, his drawings have been for his history time-line and not for pleasure. So, expecting that he's use them for history, we went to Hobby Lobby and he picked out some decent drawing pencils.

Instead of using them for history, however, N. drew an anchor, as you can see to the left.

Note that he put the cost of the picture on it, as well as his initials. Now I own an early N.

The picture to the right is a drawing of the Torah Pointer that we gave him for his Bar Mitzvah. The drawing is very realistic, except for the chain that come in at angle to the left of the pointer. I think it looks more solid, don't you?
It is interesting how N. sees things. There is really tremendous detail in his drawings. The Torah Pointer really does look heavy and massive. It has the style of depression era art. I think N. captures that very well.
I also noticed the shading in the drawings. That is something new. I know that N. watched the drawing sequence for Titanic over and over again. In that sequence, the artist used a lot of shading. But this shading is very different from that. It lends a solid feeling to the picture.
You can also see how N.'s signature is evolving.
I am now out 20 cents. But I own two early N.'s.
Maybe we need to think about finding N. a class or a teacher. Or maybe some books. I wonder what he'd do with perspective?